Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time' (Matthew 28:18-20).I've had a couple of conversations lately on the subject of Evangelisation--the sharing and spreading of the Gospel--that have left me a little bewildered. One was with former co-author of this blog (and former Christian), Kane Augustus (Christopher) Freeman, and another was with a Dominican Friar at the GodzDogz website. Now, one would suppose, I would hope, that a former Evangelical Christian and a member of the Order of Friars Preachers, would have a better understanding of what Evangelisation is. However, from the one, it was asked me,
[T]here is an evangelical aspect to Christianity that requires the persuasion of others to believe. Roughly translated, that "persuasion" is equivalent to bringing a person past their inability to believe in something they find unbelievable, isn't it?From the other, it was argued, in the context of the Dismissal Rite at Mass,
In the past, when the congregation was told to go out to the world, it might have been understood as being sent to those who were lost. The Christian community, the followers of the true way, would be sent out to look for the lost sheep and the sheep that had never belonged to the flock and bring them to the right shepherd. Even if this is a wrong way of understanding our mission in the world, it is a much better way of understanding "life after Mass" than going and holding jealously on the graces gained from our Eucharistic celebrations.Moreover, my Friar friend made the incredible statement that evangelisation must inexoribly lead to war. Nevertheless, Brother Gustave, in the same article, goes on to say,
When one is sent out after Mass, it is in order to go and share the graces one has gained from that Eucharistic Celebration. In other words, it is to bring that Mass to others, not convincing them that our way is much better than theirs, but to make sure that if there is anything we learnt from our gatherings it may also serve them.
During our Eucharistic celebrations, we experience a heavenly moment where we enter full communion with God. Sometimes we are tempted to remain there and pitch tents for the Lord like in Mark 9:2-10. The dismissal reminds us that this heavenly experience should be brought to others. People who love, they usually enjoy sharing whatever they believe will bring happiness and joy to others. Christians are supposed to be loving people and be enthusiastic in sharing what they gain from their Eucharistic celebrations...To my mind, Brother Gustave touched upon the true meaning of Evangelisation without grasping, it seems, the fullness of what he said. This paragraph, rightly understood, provides the correct balance between the extremes of his and Kane's understanding of Evangelisation as arrogantly supposing that everyone must convert to Christianity, even beyond their own ability to reasonably accept the Christian claims, or forcing them to convert against their will (in sum, "shoving your religion down their throats"), and, on the other hand, merely entering into a dialogue of indifferentism, in which neither party assumes, or is permitted to assume, that what he has to offer is of any greater inherent value than what the other person already possesses.
In other words, we have on the one hand the error of Loveless Truth, and on the other, Truthless Love. In the middle, we have St. Paul's words in Ephesians, "If we live by the truth in love, we shall grow completely into Christ" (4:15). What does it mean to live the truth in love? St. Paul develops the theme in his letter to the Philippians:
So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now that I am absent it must be more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act. Let your behaviour be free of murmuring and complaining so that you remain faultless and pure, unspoilt children of God surrounded by a deceitful and underhand brood, shining out among them like stars in the world, proffering to it the Word of life (2:12-16a).Or as St. Peter instructs us,
Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations (1 Peter 3:15-16).So we have to recognise that evangelisation is not an option for Christians. Jesus commanded it, and St. Paul teaches that it is a part of working out our salvation. What does making disciples of all nations look like, then? I can't fault Kane too much for thinking that it looks like forcing your religion on another person. As an evangelical, that was often what our "loving" proclamation seemed like to others. It is, perhaps, no accident that many of my atheist and other non-Christian friends have found me much more tolerable to be around since my conversion to Catholicism--not because I am less committed to my faith, or to sharing it, but because truly understanding the Gospel and how to share it makes a world of difference--not that I am at all perfect or always avoid slipping into one or the other of the above extremes.
The first important step in Evangelisation is simply knowing our faith--and not simply as an academic formula. We must begin with an intimate friendship with Jesus. We can hardly be His witnesses without having a lived experience of Him. Frequent reception of the Sacraments and much time in prayer are absolutely necessary. Knowing Jesus personally must be accompanied with a working knowledge of at least the basics of our faith. The nitty-gritty details of theology aren't the issue here--nor is being able to explain them with chapter-and-verse from the Bible or Catechism citations. But there are certain things you need to know, to take to heart personally, that our faith teaches. These things will come across in how you live even more than in what you say. Briefly, these are the important things to know, believe, and live out:
A) All people are made in God's image, and thus possess an inherent dignity as human persons, worthy of love. We need to approach all people as if we were approaching Our Lord Himself.The second step is, of course, to live out the truth that we have--that intimate relationship with Jesus that displays itself as love, compassion, and respect for others. It is here that the most crucial part of Evangelism takes place--in loving, humble service, and in living an authentic life of love wherever we are. As St. Francis was wont to say, "Preach the Gospel to all people; if necessary, use words."
B) We need to recognise that we are all sinners, in need of a Saviour. That's the point. But in this recognition, we can never hold ourselves up as superior to the other sinners to whom we're bringing the Gospel, to make them as good as us. In fact, relating back to A, it's just the opposite. The greatest, most effective evangelists, like St. Dominic, were extremely hard on themselves and their own sinfulness, but extremely gentle and understanding toward others. This is the attitude we must have.
C) While we believe that the Church has the fullness of Truth, this does not mean that everyone else is completely devoid of truth. Rather, to varying degrees, they already have parts of the truth that they live out themselves. We need to approach them with the notion of common ground, and relate the Truth of the Gospel to the truth they already possess, since truth doesn't contradict itself. We build on and share in what we have in common, in order to show them the greater Truth of Jesus Christ.
The final step, of course, is to actually share the Catholic faith with the people whom you have loved. After bringing Jesus to them through our actions, we engage them in dialogue and discussion, "hav[ing] your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)." It's not about being pushy with our discussion of Jesus, but being sensitive to the receptiveness of the other person. When we are in love, we naturally bring up the one we love in conversation with others. It should be no different with Jesus. We don't bring Him into the conversation in a heavy-handed way with the intention of forcing Him down another's throat and making them a convert, but as an expression of our love for Him, we share that love of Him with the other, to attract them to the love, truth, beauty, and goodness that we have found.
Going back to Brother Gustave's words above:
During our Eucharistic celebrations, we experience a heavenly moment where we enter full communion with God....[T]his heavenly experience should be brought to others. People who love, they usually enjoy sharing whatever they believe will bring happiness and joy to others. Christians are supposed to be loving people and be enthusiastic in sharing what they gain from their Eucharistic celebrations...When we know and love Jesus, recognising that He is the greatest thing in our lives, and indeed, in the world, and that He waits for us in the Eucharist, to unite Himself intimately with us--when we really believe that with all our hearts--that love can't help but overflow in us so that we will ardently desire to share that with everyone we meet! That's Evangelisation.
(Category: The Church--A Light to the Nations.)